What is Acupuncture?

Animals experience chronic disease, pain and acute injury just the same as humans do. From ageing dogs and horses with arthritic changes, sports injuries in animal athletes, to non-sweating, skin allergies and digestive issues - Acupuncture has a mechanism for treating it. Our goal is to find ways to help your animal live long and healthy lives, pain and injury free.


So what is Acupuncture and how does it work exactly?

Acupuncture is a natural tool for helping the body to rebalance, reset and refocus its natural healing ability to kick start, or continue, the healing process.

Acupuncture is the insertion of thin, sterile needles into the skin at specifically mapped out, Acupoints (areas termed Neurovascular bundles). Animals do not feel intense pain from the procedure and quickly come to realise the benefits of a big Neuro-chemical release. 



(From Schoen AM, ed: Veterinary acupuncture: ancient art to modern medicine, ed 2, St Louis, 2001, Mosby.)


Essentially Acupuncture treats pain with pain! Sounds crazy right? There is no one easy way to explain the effects of Acupuncture due to a lack of clear methods to accurately measure its efficacy, we rely on imaging of the brain response to come to a scientific explanation. In the most simple terms, it helps to understand that the brain and spinal cord are responsible for the pain experience as well as being the main areas we use to treat pain. In order to understand this process lets pretend you are in your kitchen cutting a carrot.  All of a sudden you cut your finger! Within milliseconds your brain gets a message from the hand telling it that there is an injury, your brain sends a pain signal. This causes you to grab your finger and squeeze tightly. All of a sudden you have relief from that initial sharp pain.

So whats happening beneath the surface? To over simplify the nervous system, we can say that the brain can only deal with one pain signal at a time. So when you cut your finger you have the signal sent to your brain by a fast nociceptor fibre- it’s fast because its job is to keep your body safe from harm. Your brain is now working overtime to down regulate that first sharp pain with its internal pharmacy (which far exceeds what you will find at Amcal). By squeezing your finger you are now sending new signals to your brain through mechanoreceptors. This sensory signal now bombards your brain with an entirely different non painful pressure input. As the brain can only deal with one pain signal at a time, one of the signals needs to be ignored. Enter the spinal cord which jumps into action and essentially needs to stop one signal to allow the other through. The one that gets stopped is usually the slower of the two - in this case example it happens to be the first pain. This shuts down the sharp pain and the pressure signal is allowed to be left to function on your brain. This gives your brain time to down regulate the pain. This allows you to go for a bandaid, calm down and go about your day without experiencing that sharp pain again as the brain has dispensed some epic chemicals to begin the healing and pain management process.

This concept is the simplified version of the Gate Control Method - established in1965. The Gate Control Method basically says that one pain signal can turn off another pain signal. Its fairly simple.

Bear in mind that after just 6 weeks post injury your brain will turn off signals to the area and make use of its resources for more important tasks, thus turning an acute issue into a chronic one. So when it comes to the treatment of long term chronic pain, Acupuncture proves a valuable tool. Chronic Pain has absolutely no survival advantage like the acute pain that you felt when you sliced your finger open. The chronic pain is not normal, its a pain that has lost its purpose and had become pathological. It is now a disease affecting the functionality of the body. Its not evolutionary appropriate. The nerve fibres associated with chronic pain are thick, slow fibres. A dull aching pain as opposed to the sharp “ouch” pain of slicing your finger - courtesy of those fast fibres.

So how can we exploit the Gate Theory with Acupuncture?  Acupoints are anatomical areas of nerve and capillary bundles - they are richly supplied with nerve endings and blood vessels. So when I stick a needle into an area that is primed and ready for neural input - Im going to cause a reaction in the brain, theres no way around that. 

As the needle is inserted and rotated, collagen and elastin fibres are going to twist around it and stick on the needle creating a coupling between the tissues and the metal. This causes micro inflammation and micro pull on nerve endings and irritation of muscle fibres. Sounds awful right? Not so! When I do this with a small microscopic inflammatory response it activates the first nerve fibres! First pain, which is much faster than the chronic pain your animal is experiencing. These fast fibres thus cause the spinal cord to shut the gate on the slow, dull chronic pain.

The brain is going to listen to the faster of the two fibres, the evolutionary appropriate ones which aid in healing. The brain now begins down regulating the pain once again and activating its neuropharmacy to heal the area of pain or disease. The internal pharmacy is filled with Opioids, Serotonin and Endorphins and so it makes the patient feel amazing. This results in what is called Neuromodulation.

All this sounds rather painful and scary Im sure, but if you watch an animal receive acupuncture you will be surprised to find a calm and happy dog or horse thats falling into a deep relaxed state due to the release of Neurochemicals. 



Our brain links pain with emotional experience. This is why we use soothing Pet Tunes Music, lots of tasty treats and nice distractions like a tickle next to the area of needle insertion (much like you applied pressure to your cut hand) . Once we twist the needle to achieve the pain response or Da Chi (a quick, sharp pain that is short lived and very rarely noticed). The brain does it’s thing and releases it’s wonderful chemicals. The animal feels no pain and only relaxation.

Treatments are done in paddock for horses and in home or in clinic for dogs. 

Sessions usually last from 45mins to 1h for dogs and around 1hour for horses. 

Contact Tam Shead for a treatment in SE QLD or Northern NSW  -